At the far end of Meridian Street, running parallel to the southern shore of Lake Venne, sat the Bloody Fist Tavern. To look upon the building, ‘sat’ wouldn’t be quite the word to refer to it. Perhaps hunkered, or squatted, would be a better term. The hulking, dark stone building was constructed out of large smooth rocks that looked to have been brought up from a river bed, although not one that was local. A sign overhanging the front doors creaked lazily in the stormy air, a large black gauntlet, curled in a fist, covered in lurid red painted blood. The structure was two stories tall and in the shape of a large cube, with a second story overhanging the first story in front, forming a long covered porch on which sat an assortment of mismatched stools and rough-hewn round wooden tables. A high pitched roof was covered in wooden tiles, and curved steeply down towards the gutters along the roof’s bottom edges.
Tonight the rain had come down suddenly out of the Barrier Peaks, and the catch buckets at either end of the front porch gutter were already overflowing into the two small alleys that ran along either side of the building. Two or three patrons sat at tables on the porch, drinking ale from surprisingly nice pint glasses, and one poked a long knife into the remainders of a small suckling pig situated in the middle of the table, returning the knife to his mouth with speared pieces of roast meat. Loud, raucous music poured out of the tavern; a fiddle, and what sounded like drums, but could very well have been just glasses being banged on tabletops.
Across the street from the noisy tavern, wind was whipping across dark Lake Venne, forming small waves that lapped at the piers of a line of small boat houses that clustered along the far side of Meridian Street. Under the creaking roof of the boathouse directly across from the Bloody Fist, a shape stands under a cloak, watching the front door.
Garenol shifted the weight of his swords around under the soaking wet cloak and looked up again at the door of the Bloody Fist. No Guards had entered the tavern in the two hours he had been standing here in the rain. No one who appeared to be a magistrate had entered either, although with today’s display, the magistrates may be moving to investigate in the city incognito. Malus obviously hadn’t arrived yet either; the tavern was still noisy and no one had exited the premises headfirst or through a window. “Why did I agree to this?” thought Garenol as he shook pooling water from the hood of his cloak.
As he shrugged, the noise he had been anticipating all evening finally came to his sensitive ear: the sound of a large armored man trying his best to move quietly. The noise was coming from the alleyway to the left of the tavern, and only ears as sensitive as an elf’s would have heard. Garenol chuckled quietly to himself, “Oh, now you try for stealth. Give it up, Malus, you’re as subtle as a smith’s hammer.”
As he watched, the shape of a cloaked Malus emerged at the mouth of the alley, slowly peering down the street, first one way, then the next. Apparently satisfied with the street’s emptiness, Malus strode out of the alley and towards the door of the Bloody Fist.
“I can’t believe he made it,” muttered Garenol, as he now moved to cross the street towards the tavern as well. Malus didn’t turn, as he couldn’t hear Garenol’s footsteps. Malus was up the steps and crossing the tavern’s porch when Garenol gave a low whistle. Malus turned quickly, and narrowed his eyes at Garenol, who was coming up the steps behind him.
“I don’t like it when you do that, Crynus,’ Malus said as Garenol drew close to him.
“Have to keep an advantage over you anyway I can,” Garenol grinned as walked closer. “You never know when I may have to sneak up on you, best to practice when I can.”
“Even with surprise, it wouldn’t matter,” Malus stepped closer to Garenol, now looking down into his gray eyes.
“Easy, you blunt object. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink or five,” Garenol said quickly, as he patted Malus high on the arm and moved around him to the swinging doors leading into the tavern. “Come on, I’m thirsty, and we ought to enjoy ourselves tonight. Tomorrow night, we’ll be back out under the stars.”
“Or in the dungeons. Or dead,” Malus muttered to himself as he followed Garenol into the warmth and light of the Bloody Fist.
The common room inside the tavern was warm. A large, central stone first pit crackled with a hardwood fire, a low metal cylinder catching smoke and funneling into a chimney leading up through the roof. Arranged around the room haphazardly were thick round wooden tables like the ones on the porch, each surrounded by a variable number of tavern guests on stools or chairs. The same nice glassware as the porch was distributed liberally among the tables, as the guests drank the brews that the Bloody Fist had become famous for here in Haarkedamia. The right hand side of the tavern had a steep, narrow stairwell leading up to a number of small inn rooms on the second floor. A podium sat at the foot of the stairs, with a guestbook and a harried porter in his raincoat and high boots, waiting on guests who’d decided to stay the night. A long bar ran along the left side, with a swinging door at either end, from which issued a steady stream of pretty barmaids, and a few chubby cooks, carrying big trays of beer, and even bigger trays of meats, cheeses, and bread. An occasional two cook team would emerge, bent and straining under the weight of the Fist’s specialty, the Big Pig, a whole roast suckling pig, glazed and steaming, on top of an enormous oval pewter platter piled high with roasted root vegetables, with an Allthorian apple shoved into its mouth. Large, leaded glass windows were in abundance along the walls, shining the warmth and hospitality of the tavern out into the city night, and speaking of the tavern’s obvious success, windows not being a cheap extravagance here in the human realms.
The place had become something of an institution, with each largish town in the Confederacy getting its own Bloody Fist over the past ten years. Although each had its own proprietor, typically a nondescript, largish human with a beard of some sort, there were rumors in abundance about the taverns: that they were all run by a large thieves guild, or a cadre of mages, that the places were built by magic, hence the similarities between each one no matter where it was, and that the owners teleported beer and their famous “Big Pigs” to each location, that the tiny barkeep of the Bloody Fist in Haarkedamia City had knocked out a paladin of Tortinen who’d gotten a little mouthy with some elven patrons. Or that they put addictive substances in the beer and pork, or that anything could be had for a price, from anywhere, dwarven spirits, contraband Tribunas Empire wines, teleporting services, summonings, hexes, magical messenger services.
Regardless of the wild rumors, which were numerous, the Bloody Fist always meant to same thing to those who wandered the breadth and width of Haarkedamia, good food and drink, and patrons who would mind their own business. Most people who frequented a Bloody Fist would say that they couldn’t remember the last time a fight had broke out. The few that could always commented on how fast the staff would end it. In all, it was the ideal location for having a few drinks while ducking multiple charges of murder, in the same city the murders had been committed in.
Just inside the door, a large, burly, red-bearded man stood, a boiled leather jerkin barely containing a barrel chest, and thick bronze bands on his arms. He stepped in front of Garenol. “Weapons need to be left here, sir.” He looked over Garenol’s head and into Malus’ eyes, “You too.”
Malus stared for a long moment, then pulled a hand from under his cloak. He handed the man a short, heavy sword. The man continued to stare at Malus. Malus stared back for a few moments, then moved his arms underneath his cloak. His other hand emerged. A belt hung from it, holding a scabbarded longsword, a number of daggers, a sap, and a cruel looking handaxe, the halfmoon of its blade narrowing around the haft to come to a conical spike on the reverse. The man took the belt awkwardly, trying not to gouge himself on any of the points hanging from it.
The rough looking man looked to Garenol. Garenol held his arms wide, spreading his cloak, revealing a loose gray shirt over black leather riding breeches, and high riding boots that folded back at the knee. He was unarmed. The large man nodded and stepped aside.
Malus walked purposefully through the tavern towards the back of the room, away from the two musicians in the front right corner. He could just spy an open table near the back with a few high-backed chairs. Garenol threaded his way through the crowd to the bar.
As Malus approached the table, he pulled a small piece of parchment out of a pocket deep within his cloak. He looked down at it, and mouthed to himself as he read the words that were inscribed therein. He finished as he reached the table, replaced the parchment in its pocket, and moved carefully around the table perimeter to seat himself with his back to the wall. As he sat, he pulled off the large cloak to give to the little porter from near the stairs, who had come closer when he saw that Malus was wearing a wet cloak. The armor underneath the cloak was nondescript, gray and well-worn, but oiled and rust free. He settled into his chair, placing both hands on top of the table and looking around the room slowly.
“Two pints of house ale,” Garenol said loudly as he leaned over the crowded bar. The barkeep, a stout bald man in shirtsleeves and cloth apron, had his back to the bar, and was busily pulling draughts of thick porter from a keg stuffed into a niche in the stone wall. He waved distractedly with one hand in Garenol’s general direction.
“Dammit,” Garenol growled as he fished around in his pocket. He pulled out a handful of coins, quickly putting all the ones marked with oak trees back in his pocket. He took a particularly large gold piece, an Allthorian Imperial, narrowed his eyes at the back of the barkeep’s bald head, wound up and threw it at him.
The coin bounced with a satisfying ‘thunk’ off the barkeep’s skull. The barkeep, startled, dropped the porter glass in his hand, and it shattered at his feet. He whirled around, shouting, “Who is the dead son of a . . .” then he saw Garenol, smirking from under the hair that had fallen down in his face. “bitch. . .” he finished with a stammering whisper. He looked quickly down at the floor, where the huge gold coin shone in a puddle of porter and glass shards. He bent down, and carefully picked up the coin to look at it. “Been up north for a while?” he inquired and he turned the coin between thick fingers.
“Been all over, Dorick. Just send the beer over, and a pig, we may be here for awhile,” Garenol replied, gesturing over to the table where Malus was sitting. Dorick the barkeep looked over to where Garenol pointed, and blanched, his eyes widening as he saw who was seated there.
“Why in the name of Lor would you bring that crazed piece of . . .”he began, his face quickly reddening.
“Quiet!” Garenol hissed, “Or he’ll here you. I’ll keep him in check, just get the food and beer, we’ll do our business and get out of here.”
“Just keep him corralled, Garenol,” the barkeep replied adamantly, “I’ve built a hell of a business here, and I have no intention of letting that . . .that devil do anything stupid in here.”
“Of course, Dorick,” Garenol replied in a conciliatory tone, while sliding more gold across the bar, “I’ve got him. We just have tonight, we’re gone tomorrow.”
“Hah, last time you said that to me, most of the city of Fauston burned the next day,” Dorick said good-naturedly.
“Heh, yeah, I remember. Nothing like that this time, Dorick, I promise,” Garenol said to him as Dorick shook his head at the memory.
“Like I trust a damn word you say, Garenol,” Dorick quickly replied, slipping the handful of gold into his pocket, “Good thing your gold is always good, go sit down.” He turned away from Garenol shaking his head, grabbing two fresh pint glasses from an overhead rack and yelling for a cook to prep another pig.
Garenol watched him go, a thoughtful look in his eyes. He turned to walk back to the table, where Malus sat, hands together on the table with fingers interlaced, staring ahead into the middle distance.
“Hope you’ve got fire insurance, old friend,” Garenol said quietly to himself as he walked back through the crowd. “This is going to be just like Fauston.”
7 - Berlin
8 years ago